May is a very special month. And May 2008 has been, up to now, crammed with beautifully warm days, clear bright skies and, just recently, some rather interesting birds. Yesterday's hot news was the final confirmation that a Black Stork had been residing in these northern climes. First seen a few days ago, but not quite for long enough, or clearly enough for a 100% id confirmation, last night the original finder, Alan Leitch RSPB Mainland Reserves Warden) following his original hunch finally pinned the bird down as it decided to roost at Woodwick, Evie and good views were had by most folk (me excluded – unfortunately I didn't hear about it til this morning).
The news this morning included a Rustic Bunting – actually in the village we have just relocated from! - Ah well, the bird wasn't to know that. A brilliant find by Paul Higson and I decided the day would have to change course somewhat. With Sally at work at the ferry office doing a special ticket sales day for the Fair Isle daytrip (which I appear to have a ticket for – ahem!), I tempt the kids with the suggestion of a car trip around the county, a picnic on a sandy beach and the chance to see some of their old friends from the 'Hope.
Sandwiches made, pop and crisps packed, sketchbook, bins and scope loaded and away we go. The detour to Evie proved fruitless, except for the stunning drive and amazing scenery, but we arrive at our intended beach after another 40 minutes – 40 minutes crammed with the Greatest Hits of Queen which both Savannah (13) and Edie (6) are mad keen on. Sandwiches are wolfed down whilst I check out the little tern colony – 5 birds noted in the 20 minutes – then we had a wander along the shore. A fine little group of sanderling in various plumages from fine grey to blushing orange. Great birds! A rakish silhouette crossed the bay – dark morph Arctic Skua, followed by its big cousin – Bonxie. 80 eiders are a fine sight too and, I realise, the long-tailed ducks have finally departed for their breeding grounds. They seem to stay later each year (?).
We're now running out of time but I make the drive down to St Margaret's Hope, fingers crossed that the bunting will have decided to stay. On arriving at the site - opposite the doctors' surgery – I see four familiar faces, all looking in different directions. Is it still around, I enquire. I t appears that it has been around, but very elusive and 'crap views' were all anyone's had this afternoon. I tell the kids to behave and to sing Bohemian Rhapsody a little less enthusuastically and I take a wander up the lane, bins in hand. I spend ten minutes circling the tiny copse – a few nice birds are singing, including whitethroat, blackcap, greenfinch and chiffchaff, nice stuff. I then just pick up a very slight contact note – a bit like a little song thrush and there's my bird! He's just sitting in a willow, bold as brass and directly opposite my car with the kids headbanging in it! I retrace my steps, quieten the kids and get out my drawing gear. He's a little marvel and I spend 15 minutes enjoying his company, the dappled sunlight cascading through the canopy – chiffchaff and whitethroat singing and, every now and then, a subdued flutey refrain from the rustic bunting – his throat swelling and vibrating slightly as he performs.
The scene could have been in any wood (well 5 trees is a wood up here) in Britain, but I'm reminded starkly of where I live on the return drive. Speeding along the ayre which seperates Echna Loch from the sea and my attention is attracted by a kerfuffle in the corner of the loch. I can see a female mallard frantically mobbing a hooded crow, whilst an oystercatcher is going beserk over its head. As I draw level, the hoodie picks something up and starts to mangle it. It's a baby oystercatcher and, as always, a slightly sickening feeling hits me. The feeling doesn't last long – it's nature and that's what happens, but it's still gruesome to witness it. The kids don't notice anything – they're screaming at the top of their voices “. . . left alone with Big Fat Fanny – she was such a naughty nanny . . . “
Maybe I'll sneak out to look for the stork later on . . .